Breaking: Welser-Möst renews at Cleveland until 2022

Breaking: Welser-Möst renews at Cleveland until 2022


norman lebrecht

October 02, 2014

Franz Welser-Möst, who walked out of the Vienna Opera four weeks ago over artistic disagreements, is a much happier music director at the Cleveland Orchestra. So happy he has just extended his contract to 2022, meaning he will have spent more than 20 years with the orchestra.

Press release follows:


The Cleveland Orchestra announces extension of Franz Welser-Möst contract as Music Director to 2022

Extension confirms the continuing artistic success of the Welser-Möst/Cleveland partnership.

Franz Welser-Möst’s ongoing commitment to Cleveland provides continuity and artistic stability into the Orchestra’s second century.

Welser-Möst will lead the Orchestra even further in music education and community engagement.


Release Date: October 2, 2014 at 10 a.m. EDT U.S.A.

CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Orchestra announced today the extension of Franz Welser-Möst’s contract as Music Director to 2022. With this extension, Mr. Welser-Möst’s tenure will reach at least 20 years, extending four years beyond the Orchestra’s Centennial Season in 2017-18. The announcement was made this morning to the Orchestra’s musicians and staff by the President of the Board of Trustees, Dennis W. LaBarre, and Executive Director, Gary Hanson.

“I am delighted that Franz will remain our artistic leader through and beyond our Centennial,” said Mr. LaBarre. “There is no more successful artistic partnership in the world today thanks to Franz’s extraordinary vision and leadership. I am confident the future will bring even greater success. Franz’s extended commitment provides artistic stability that is increasingly rare in our industry, and enables our shared goal for a Centennial that is a forward-looking foundation for the institution’s second century.”

“Franz is transforming The Cleveland Orchestra,” said Mr. Hanson, “not only artistically with ever-greater elegance and flexibility, but also institutionally through his passion for making us relevant to today’s audiences. For Franz, performing great concerts in local high schools is no less important than our celebrated international appearances. His long-term commitment to Cleveland is central to fulfilling our expanding education and community engagement mission.”

Commenting on the announcement of his extension, Mr. Welser-Möst said, “I love the spirit of The Cleveland Orchestra and there is no greater joy for me than collaborating with these musicians. Their collective dedication to excellence at every performance is inspiring and humbling. We challenge each other to greater heights with each passing season. I am very excited that we will launch the Orchestra’s second century together.”

Mr. Welser-Möst also spoke about the unique qualities of the Cleveland community, “We have a highly sophisticated audience in Northeast Ohio. I feel a special bond with them, whose enthusiasm for their hometown orchestra is matched by their understanding of the work and support required to maintain such an ensemble. And beyond Ohio, the passionate support of our Miami community motivates even further my long-term commitment to the Orchestra and those we serve.”

In recent seasons, Mr. Welser-Möst has led a comprehensive set of new initiatives for the Orchestra toward goals of greater community engagement while extending the Orchestra’s international presence and reputation. Looking ahead to the Centennial and beyond, he commented: “To remain relevant in a changing world requires that we constantly change and grow. Leading up to and beyond our Centennial, we will accelerate the pace of change, breaking more new ground with new audiences, new repertoire, and new types of concert and opera presentations.”

With his extended commitment through the 2021-22 season, Franz Welser-Möst will become the second longest tenured Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra. Mr. Welser-Möst was named the seventh Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra on June 7, 1999, and began his tenure in September 2002. In May 2003, his initial five-year contract was extended to 2012. In 2008, a six-year extension was announced to 2018.

Concurrently with his Cleveland appointment, Franz Welser-Möst has also served as General Music Director of the Zurich Opera up to 2010, and in the same role at the Vienna State Opera from 2010 to 2014. He is a regular guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic at home and on far-reaching international tours, as well as for opera productions at the Salzburg Festival.





  • This is happy news indeed!

  • Hank Drake says:

    I know it’s popular in some circles to bash Franz Welser-Möst, but the more I hear of his conducting, the more I like it. The first time I heard him in Cleveland was shortly before he took up residence here, and his Bruckner 5th seemed tentative. Perhaps he and the Clevelanders needed to get more acquainted. FW-M has pleasantly surprised me on a number of occasions – none more than two years ago when he led a Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy which commingled lascivious passion with astonishing control. Hardly repertoire one would expect him to excel in, but he did.

    • sdReader says:

      We’ll have to take your word for it, but I can’t imagine him excelling in Scriabin.

      For a top 20, even top 10, U.S. orchestra like Cleveland, one would think there are more interesting younger conductors available, if only management would do the research and show some courage — but of course they use the star system when they should be shaping it!

    • John says:

      You can leave ‘astonishing control’ out of my equation for any great performance of Scriabin. Check out a recording of Stokowski with the Royal Phil at the Proms. Obviously Welser-Most is the right ticket for some people. He hasn’t excited me.

      • Hank Drake says:

        Perhaps “astonishing control” is not the right phrase. What I meant was related to what a famous actor once said to a colleague “Never show the audience your top, because then you’ll have nowhere else to go.” FW-M held everything in check during the performance, which was a permeated by a pulsing increase of tension, followed by relaxation – until everything exploded in the end.

        Again, I never expected FW-M conducting Scriabin at all – let alone so well. I love Stokowski as much as anyone (in fact, I’m listening to one of his discs in the new Phase 4 box now), but he’s long gone and exists only in recordings. Like FW-M or not, he’s proven a successful partner here in Cleveland.

  • erich says:

    Like the best wine, he gets better with age. He’s only at his best with a ‘musical family’ around him and is not a good guest conductor. In Vienna, he would always have taken second place to more glamourous and charismatic guests like Thielemann (although the latter’s repertoire is about a tenth of FWM’s). What he needs now is a European ‘home’ to match Cleveland. His best relationship at the moment is with the Bayerischer Rundfunk but if the Berliners make the terrible mistake of taking Thielemann, he’d be a natural for Dresden.

  • Herrera says:

    What’s the difference, a 20 year contract or a 2 year contract, when Welser-Most feels like it, he’ll just quit.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    This is good news all around from every point of view, in my opinion.

  • M2N2K says:

    Not a good guest conductor? He appeared with my orchestra several times as a guest and I always liked him a lot. He is a very fine musician.

  • harold braun says:

    I think FWM is highly inconsistent.I heard some great performances with the Clevelanders under him(Bruckner 5,Bartok Concerto for Orchestra,Debussy Jeux),and some I found totally uninvolved(Mahler 7).Most disappointing was his Brahms1 at this years proms,metronomic,dull,uninspired,rushed,and boring,for all the wonderful playing.But his Johann Strauss IS fantastic.I´m quite surprised he gets this extension of contract,for I heard his is not much liked by quite a few players there.Franklin Cohen,the wonderful principal clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra,isn´t allowed to play under FWM´s baton any more…

    • newyorker says:

      What is the source of this silly anecdote about Franklin Cohen? How could anyone “not allow” him to play under the music director’s baton??

      • sdReader says:

        Good question, but don’t expect an answer. Harold Braun tends to say things and then disappear from the conversation.

        • harold braun says:

          I heard it from a musician friend from Cleveland whose teacher plays in the orchestra.And the story is quite well known among musicians there,and there even was some press coverage.And it is not so unusual that the music director doesn´t want to play a player anymore in his concerts or recordings.A very good friend of mine in a fine german orchestra(also a clarinet player!)suffers the same treatment.

      • harold braun says:

        FWM banned him from playing in his concerts,recordings,and also the recent tours,as you may have noticed,if you were at some of the concerts during the last season.

  • Mark says:

    I think this is very sad news. Despite some successes now and then, FWM seems to conduct everything briskly and with little interest. At the recent BBC Proms concerts, there were many empty seats, reportedly much more so in the second concert. Overall, the reviews of the tour were only so-so, particularly in London, Paris and Amsterdam. TCO management says that they pay no attention to reviews, but they are the only ones who seem to claim this to be one of the orchestral world’s outstanding partnerships.

  • David Pickett says:

    I saw a video of FWM conducting Bruckner 4 in St. Florian with the Cleveland Orch and the players looked extremely bored throughout. It was not inspiring to watch.

    • Will Duffay says:

      That’s how they looked at the Proms. We put it down to jetlag, but they couldn’t have looked less interested and impressed if they’d tried. So I assume they weren’t interested or impressed. Not a single smile amongst them afterwards. Can’t say if that’s FWM’s fault, though. I suspect they’re just an uppity band.

  • Mark says:

    I saw the video of Bruckner 5 twice. First, on PBS and I fell asleep. Second, TCO sent me one after I wrote a response letter explaining that I discontinued by contributions due to FWM. I stayed awake, but was uninspired throughout the performance.

    I went to an opening concert in Cleveland a few years back of Mahler 3, and shortly after hearing the CSO perform it with Semyon Bychkov. The CSO was having a bad night in the brass section and TCO was near perfect. But FWM just could not make it happen. He pulled back at the big moments and rushed through the last movement. The applause afterwards was polite but not enthusiastic for an opening night of the season concert.

    Another opening night was Tchaikovsky 6, and coincidentally two days after I heard Muti conduct it with the CSO. Muti was very frustrating. The adagio introduction was very, very slow, and Muti lectured the audience between the 3rd and 4th movement because there was some applause. Yet, Muti was never uninteresting, the performance sustained the tension and the playing was very involved. Two nights later, FWM rushed through his performance, and he was barely called back for one bow. It was not very memorable.

    I know many people who simply do not go to hear TCO when FWM is conducting. I listen to their radio broadcasts often, and I find them lacking when FWM is conducting. The ensemble sounds out of synch and the playing uninvolved. Apparently, he is trying to build drama by manipulating sound instead of tempo (Maazel did both of course). Ultimately I often find the sound out of synch and the performances boring.

    I listened to the recent BBC Proms concert (the first one of two), and found nothing to admire in the Brahms 1st or the Academic Festival Overture. The symphony was so rushed that one could not even admire the playing. I’ve heard the recordings and some of the performances by his predecessors in Cleveland, and I would take any of them over FWM.

    By the way, the Maazel/Cleveland Brahms recordings have been released on CD on the Eloquence label, but they are largely unavailable in the U.S. After hearing FWM’s Brahms, I ordered the Maazel online (I think they were shipped from the U.K.) The playing on the Maazel is superb throughout. And while Mr. Maazel takes some liberties here and there, these are largely involved performances and very much worth hearing.

    • ML says:

      I can attest that Bychkov Mahler Third with the CSO was a disaster. I went to the Thursday night concert (almost always). The first movement was wonderful, but from the second movement on, things started to fall apart, especially Clevenger’s horn and Chris Martin’s post horn. Maybe things improved on Friday or Saturday. That said, Bychkov delivered a most memorable Shostakovich Seventh way back in 2007. I was floored. I also loved Bychkov’s Mahler Fifth, except for Clevenger’s horn at the start of the fifth movement. (I did have an axe to grind: he stayed on way too long.)

  • Tom C says:

    I heard that same Proms performance streamed online. I did not think it was rushed. Instead my impression was that he omitted the standard nuances/liberties of tempo and substituted nuances in dynamics instead of tempo. As I wrote elsewhere (not SD), he conducted it more like Haydn’s Hundred-Tenth than like Beethoven’s Tenth. It was the first time in my experience to hear the reprise of the big trombone chorale taken in tempo (Brahms augments the note-values but doesn’t change the tempo. Some conductors actually slow the tempo in half, most somewhere in between.) It may not have been heaven-storming, but it was a fresh take and I liked it.

    As for them being an unsmiling bunch, Maazel said the same thing. But you don’t get first-class playing out of musicians who are “uninvolved” or “not interested.”

  • hadrianus says:

    Cannot understand why the Cleveland Orchestra is so hooked on FWM – considering the great Maestros they had in the past… I was also surprised when the Wiener Staatsoper took him. I have witnessed FWM working for many years in Zurich.

    • M2N2K says:

      Why? Probably because he is a very fine musician. For example, I enjoyed working with him much more than I did with his predecessor CvD (as guest conductors on several occasions in both cases).

  • hadrianus says:

    He is certainly a very fine musician and a perfect and higly professional practitioner, but from all the Zurich Opera produtions he conducted, I was impressend only by his Rosenkavalier. Pelléas and Lulu, for example, were done as extremely transparent and lyrical as in his usual way, but lacking of tension and depht. His Mozart cycle was slow and dull, most singers were totally dissatisfied. I prefer FWM in concert – and for German repertoire.

    • M2N2K says:

      And so, apparently, all these positives you are mentioning here, are enough for the Cleveland Orchestra to like him.

      • hadrianus says:

        I leave this up to you and to your colleagues 🙂
        In any case, FWM will feel better at home in Cleveland than amongst Vienna’s intrigues…
        And he is friendly with orchestras, no tyrant, and not such a nerve-wracking pitch fanatic/fetishist like CVD 🙂
        Don’t forget: all this is my personal opinion only.

        • M2N2K says:

          Don’t worry: mine is just as personal. You are a little too harsh on CvD – he has his strengths too – but for the most part I agree with you about FWM who in my opinion is strangely underrated.

  • David J Gill says:

    …late comment/reply:

    It should be needless to say that he is a very fine musician; it’s a prerequisite for the job. But an orchestra and its audience desire more than that from a music director. I attended ever so many Maazel and CvD concerts but have only had a chance to observe FW-M up close on only a few occasions. Never before have I observed a conductor who was so obviously disinterested in being there. Maazel had a poor ‘bedside manner,’ at times, and a conductor need not radiate warmth, but this level of contemptuousness was dismaying.

    The CvD years were a golden era of esprit de corps on stage, convivial goodwill with the audience and fresh, powerful, and sometimes, unforgettable concerts. An astonishing Mahler 6 is fixed in my memory. (It was just before the recording session…but the disk captures so little of the depth of sound from the orchestra.)

    Why does the MMA keep renewing his contract? It’s a mystery. (Perhaps to spite Donald Rosenberg?)

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Well perhaps he has a touch of sang froid about him and he does not have the personality of Lenard Bernstein, but FWM has done this great orchestra no harm in his years on the podium.

    • klemmaniac says:

      I disagree. I’ve noticed a decline in the orchestra’s playing since FwM took over and whereas I used to be mesmerized by their magic at almost every concert, lately I usually leave the concert unmoved and indifferent to the performance if reasonably impressed by some of the technical aspects of the playing of the musicians. Yesterday I heard Brahms’ Requiem under FwM and it was just boring. It’s one of my favorite pieces of music and I couldn’t believe I didn’t enjoy the concert. The major things I’ve noticed is a new clarinet player who doesn’t sound all that great to me (definitely not as good as Cohen) and moves around too much when playing for my taste. Also the balance of the orchestra at loud volumes is completely unrefined and vulgar. It’s just loud and abrasive without any finesse or thought to the clarity and heirarchy of the parts (which used to be something that impressed me constantly). FwM also just rushes through everything (I mean literally rush, not stick to a straight tempo ignoring breathing and stretching for phrasing). The orchestra I notice sometimes have trouble keeping up because what he is doing is so unmusical and their good instincts are fighting their duty to follow him. I’m sad, because the CO was something that used to make me believe in magic and inspire me so much, now it’s rare when that happens at a concert with FwM. The best concerts I’ve been to recently have all been under guest conductors.

  • hadrianus says:

    Once an ensemble, its management, sponsors and agents are hooked on a particular conductor, there is nothing which can be done – it’s like this everywhere, and often the situations are mafia-like.